Qingdao seaport

Fish prices are being forced upwards in east coast port cities in China due to a severe shortage of local wild stocks.

Prices for ribbonfish soared to CNY 100 (USD 16.29, EUR 12.51) per 500 grams in late June. Fish markets visited by SeafoodSource in Qingdao, a key seafood processing and import hub, report a doubling in prices over the past two years for seasonally popular species like ribbonfish and butterfish as the local Yellow Sea suffers from continued overfishing.

Indications are that prices will rise further, given that last summer ribbonfish prices at one point soared to CNY 150 (USD 24.44, EUR 18.76) per 500 grams. Ribbonfish, also known as saury (and locally as daoyu), has become so rare that it’s now a “luxury” fish in Qingdao, according to local media. As local authorities enforce the 19th fishing moratorium period, local fishing resources are increasingly rare.

China’s state-controlled media is encouraged each year to run coverage of the enforcement of an annual fishing ban — the 19th such no-fishing ban came into force on 1 June this year and will last till 1 August. Yet the effectiveness of the annual “fish rest” period is being questioned by local experts who blame intense dragnet fishing for the clean-out of local seas of staple species like yellow croaker, pomfret, white eel and catfish.

“It’s totally overfished…all species in the waters off Qingdao continue to disappear,” said Wang Hongshan, a spokesman for Qingdao Ports Management Co. “Some of them are even endangered, the yellow croaker is mainly cultured now and has to be shipped from southern regions...and most of the butterfish are imported.”

Wang explained that the Qingdao market is now heavily reliant on southerly Fujian province for its saury. A local boatman said saury prices of CNY 100 per kilo makes it the most profitable fish he can catch, particularly given the miserable size of mackerel and conch, two other species caught by local boats. According to the fisherman, mackerel by contrast is barely worth the time since about 5,000 kilos are needed to earn the same as 200 kilos of saury.”

Quantities are however hard to find — one day’s fishing yielded only 150 kilograms of saury from 12 trawlers.

Meanwhile, a severe shortage of fish in the local seas is forcing fishermen in another port in Shandong province to abandon their vessels and go to factories looking for work. Longkou, Shandong province is entering its off-fishing season earlier than usual because of low market. Fishermen told the Qingdao Evening News that the off-season made no difference since they’d already tied up their boats in May due to a shortage of fish in the seas.

“Even though it is not officially the off-fishing season, the fish men stopped to go fishing for a while because of less fish amount, sometimes they got nothing for the whole day fishing,” one fisherwoman said. Subsidies which cover up to half the cost of boat fuel were no longer enough to entice trawlers onto the water and many fishermen have sought factory work in nearby cities.

Further down the coast, Jiangsu province is also enforcing a maritime fishing ban from 1 June to 1 August. To meet the requirements of Agriculture Department of China, Jiangsu sea area will enter to its off-fishing season from 1 June to 1 August, all fishing boats should not enter into the sea area during this time.

Jiangsu Provincial Ocean and Fisheries Bureau is coordinating inspections vessels to check that “poles, pots, baskets, cages and nets” are not operational during the break.

According to guidelines for a revival of marine fisheries issued by the Chinese government in March, China has pledged to take environmentally friendly measures in its catch fisheries: among them “intensifying monitoring of fishery areas, strictly implementing off-season policies and controlling offshore fishing.” But at the same time the cabinet, in one of its last meetings under former premier Wen Jiabao, pledged to also target long-range fishing, intensive sea-farming and aquatic products processing. While pointing to what it called “improved management of the sector in line with current international rules” the government promised to upgrade fishing boats, nurture leading companies, improve fishermen’s livelihood and step up construction of infrastructure such as ports.


Contact Madelyn Kearns

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